Alumni Impumelelo Edition 2

Professorial Inaugural address: Prof Marlize Lombard


According to Professor Marlize Lombard, the Director of the Centre for Anthropological Research at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), human origins researchers will need to integrate fossil, archaeological and genetic records with state-of-the-art methods, and global trends and debates; while dedicating the knowledge thus gained to the Professor Lombard explored the questions what make us human (Homo sapiens or modern human, i.e., ‘us’), and how, where and when did we gain our humanness, when she delivered her professorial inauguration address, Human Origins in Southern Africa: A Stone Age Archaeologist’s Reflections on the Past and Future. Prof Lombard sketched some of the paradoxes and puzzles around the discovery of the first fossil skull of a young hominin child in South Africa almost a century ago. youth and to their futures in a region that gave birth to our humanness.

“Around two million years ago when these early hominins roamed our grasslands and where many fossil discoveries have been made since, mostly by non-South African researchers in a still male dominated field. Yet, the work of South African women scientists is greatly influencing what we are learning about the genetic and cognitive origins of our own species, Homo sapiens”, she said. Prof Lombard pointed out that Prof Himla Soodyall was a trailblazer in the field of mitochondrial DNA, which showed that all living humans stem from one ‘great, great, great … grandmother’, a woman who lived in sub-Saharan Africa (perhaps even southern Africa), and most closely resembled a San woman of today. “Her mentee Carina Schlebusch now works from Uppsala in Sweden, from where she is exploring ancient human DNA in a collaborative project with myself and other scientists in an endeavour to reconstruct

the population history of sub- Saharan Africa, aligning it with the archaeological records of the region.” She highlighted that the artefacts excavated by archaeologists are human-made material culture, the tangible products and extensions of the human mind. “Lyn Wadley, my mentor, A-rated scientist, and the first woman professor in archaeology in South Africa, worked several prominent Stone Age sites, and her cognitive archaeology on material culture from these sites demonstrates how ancient hunter-gatherers had fluid intelligence that allowed them to conceive of and use complex knowledge systems to resolve everyday problems innovatively”. “It is then to the human mind – a mind that is capable of wisdom and reason, and a mind that is flexible enough to think simultaneously both scientifically and creatively – that I find myself drawn to explore the origins of our



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